MLS Cup to Taika Waititi’s “Next Goal Wins”: The Thomas Rongen story

But if Rongen followed in the sometimes harsh stylistic footsteps of his Dutch coaching predecessors, it was for good reason.

Michels is credited with igniting the Total Football revolution when he coached the legendary 1974 Netherlands national team to a World Cup final. The star player of that team, Cruyff, carried on the torch as a coach at Barcelona, where he notably influenced the techniques taught at their famed residential youth academy, La Masia. There, many of the best players in the world went on to hone their craft, including Miami’s Messi and Sergio Busquets.

To boot, without Michels, there would likely be no “Next Goal Wins” because Rongen may have never come to live in the US and met figures like former soccer federation president Sunil Gulati, who connected him to the American Samoa job. It all dates back to when he played for the Dutch amateur national team that toured the United States in the late ’70s, scrimmaging the US Olympic team in various cities across the country. Michels wasn’t the head coach of that team, but he accompanied them anyway.

“We’re flying over the Rocky Mountains, and I’m sitting in the window, actually, in a two-seater, next to Rinus Michels, and I’m shaking,” Rongen said. “This is the man. And I’m not a conversationalist, but at one point he goes, ‘Thomas!’ I go, ‘Yes, coach?’ He goes ‘What do you think?’ I go, ‘Wow, it’s a beautiful country.’

“… Fast forward to January of 1979, and he calls. ‘Thomas, this is Coach Rinus Michels. You remember our conversation on the plane?’”

Michels had a job offer for Rongen – one that was good enough to put the young Dutch graduate student’s plans for getting a master’s in physical education on pause: Pro soccer player for the LA Aztecs.

“If he doesn’t sit next to me in the plane and happens to then go coach LA, Thomas Rongen would be somewhere in the Netherlands doing something. Probably coaching,” Rongen reflects.

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